Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Thoughts: Rangers win first playoff series
By Richard Durrett
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-1, in Game 5 of the ALDS to win the first playoff series in franchise history. Some quick game thoughts (more to come later on the blog):
* Cliff Lee was, well, Cliff Lee. He limited the damage in an early jam (more on that later) and then kept the Rays off-balance to go the complete game and allow just one run on six hits. He had 11 strikeouts, totaling 21 for the series. That breaks a MLB baseball record for strikeouts in a division series set previously at 16 by Randy Johnson (1995, 1997) and Mike Mussina (1997).
* Lee pitched at least seven innings and had no walks and 10 strikeouts for the fourth time in a postseason game. Only three other pitchers have done it even once -- Deacon Philllippe (1903), Don Newcombe (1949) and Tom Seaver (1973).
* Lee altered his approach a little by mixing up his first pitches to the Rays hitters. Some of them weren't afraid to take early swings, hoping to get a Lee fastball in the zone they could handle (it worked for leadoff hitter Jason Bartlett to start the game). So Lee threw some off-speed pitches, like his cutter, early in the counts to many of the hitters. He started the game without many first-pitch strikes, but as the game progressed his off-speed stuff got over and he was ahead in counts without using the fastball exclusively.
* The second time through the order, Lee started using his curveball more as an out pitch. He got Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton for consecutive strikeouts in the fourth with curveballs on 1-2 counts. And these were really good curves (Pena took a swing at his, Upton just watched). He got Dan Johnson to strike out the side in the fourth. All of them are left-handed hitters.
* Here's a crazy stat: Lee threw 120 pitches, and 90 of them were strikes.
* Baserunning helped the Rangers score a run in the first, fourth and sixth. Let's take a look:
* Elvis Andrus manufactured one with his legs in the first. He stole second base with Josh Hamilton at the plate and then broke for third as Hamilton grounded to the right side on a 3-2 pitch. Andrus made a wide turn at third as first baseman Pena tossed the ball to pitcher David Price. Neither really saw Andrus break for home until it was too late. Andrus scored easily and the Rangers took a 1-0 lead. It was the first RBI of the series for Hamilton and he got it despite not getting a hit.
* Nelson Cruz's speed in the fourth made the Rays make a bad play. He hit a rocket to the deepest part of the field for a double (it probably was a triple had Cruz been running hard out of the box, but he thought it was a homer, like I did) with two outs. With Ian Kinsler up, Cruz tried to steal third on the first pitch. The throw by catcher Kelly Shoppach was high and wide of third baseman Evan Longoria and into left field, allowing Cruz to score. The run came right after the Rangers had allowed one, meaning the Rays didn't get the shutdown inning.
* Vladimir Guerrero scored from second on ball that didn't get out of the infield, marking the second time the Rangers did that in Game 5. Guerrero was running from second as Ian Kinsler hit a ground ball in the sixth. The Rays tried to turn the double play, but Kinsler beat out the throw to first as Price had to cover the bag (it's tough to tell on the replays if Price actually touched the bag). Guerrero charged home and slid in just ahead of the tag to make it 3-1.
* Price pitched better than he did in Game 1, but he just didn't get much help behind him in terms of defense. Some bad throws and heads-up baserunning helped the Rangers get in front. Texas did a nice job of working counts and driving up Price's pitch count. He went six innings and gave up three runs on eight hits with six strikeouts. He threw 104 pitches.
* Hamilton talked before Game 5 about laying off the breaking pitches, something that plagued him in this series. And Price tested that claim in Hamilton's first at-bat. Hamilton saw six pitches and only one was a fastball (which he took a swing at and missed). Hamilton saw five curveballs and a slider. He was able to stay away from some of them to work the count to 3-2 before grounding out. But Hamilton still couldn't get it going at the plate. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
* The decision to go with Mitch Moreland at first base instead of Jorge Cantu paid early dividends. Moreland made a diving play on a bunt attempt by Ben Zobrist and the Rangers got an out without allowing a runner to advance in the first. He also caught a pop up in foul ground off the bat of Evan Longoria near the camera well down beside the Rays dugout. Moreland made a nice play to dodge everyone and make the catch. He didn't get a hit off Price, but had a double in the ninth of a right-handed reliever.
* Bengie Molina stole second base in the third inning. Yes, Molina. Andrus was swinging on the pitch and that helped distract Kelly Shoppach long enough that Molina got in without a throw. It was his first steal since 2006.
* Hamilton made a bad throw from center field in the third that allowed the Rays to advance an extra runner into scoring position. Zobrist, who hit a homer off Lee in Game 1, came up with runners at first and second and one out and hit a single to center on an 0-2 pitch. Hamilton came up firing and his throw was way off line. It got past Molina, allowing Zobrist to get to second after he tied the score with the hit.
* Lee was able to limit the damage in the third after getting Carl Crawford to ground out to the mound as Bartlett was headed down the line from third to home. The Rangers tagged Bartlett out (though the replay showed it was very close as to whether Michael Young got the tag or not). It looked like Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had the contact play on (though I'm a bit surprised with the No. 3 hitter up there) and it just didn't work. Lee then got Longoria to ground out.
* Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning that sent many Rays fans to the exits. Kinsler blasted an 0-1 slider into the seats in left with Cruz on base to give the Rangers a 5-1 lead.
* Before the game, the Rangers were as relaxed as I've seen them this season. It reminded me of the team attitude the day they clinched the AL West in Oakland. I was a little surprised they were that loose, but there was a quiet confidence. It showed up in their play in Game 5.
* Rays fans cheered: "Beat the Yankees" for the Rangers as they hugged on the field.